President Obama says his reaction to the death of ISIS hostage Kayla Mueller is "heartbreak"—but he thinks her "great spirit" will live on. "The more people learn about her, the more they appreciate what she stood for—and how it stands in contrast with the barbaric organization that held her captive," he tells BuzzFeed in an interview yesterday. He stresses the government did all it could to free her, including deploying an entire operation "at significant risk" to free her and other US hostages. The government did, however, stick to its policy of not paying ransoms to organizations like ISIS; ABC News reports ISIS demanded $6.6 million for her release, and had set an August 2014 deadline for payment. More emerging details:
- Although the government says it has been unable to confirm the cause of Mueller's death, per the New York Times, ISIS sent Mueller's family three photos of her body, according to two people briefed on the family's correspondence with ISIS. Two photos reportedly showed Mueller in a black Muslim hijab that partly covered her face; the third showed her in a traditional white burial shroud. And while the Times sources said they saw bruises on Mueller's face in the photos, there was no evidence of "puffiness or other concussive effects associated with a bomb blast," though they acknowledge she could have been located in a nearby building or injured by flying debris.
- The rescue operation referenced by Obama took place July 4 in a predawn raid on a Raqqa prison by Delta Force commandos, the Los Angeles Times reports. But the two dozen soldiers were too late: The hostages—who also included James Foley and Steven Sotloff—had apparently been moved a day or two before. "We never stopped trying to get her," a defense official not authorized to speak publicly tells the Times. "We never lost that focus."
- Officials yesterday told ABC News that Mueller may have been "given over" to an ISIS commander, and that forced marriage could have even been involved. "ISIS didn't see her as a hostage or a bargaining chip," said one.
- Devastated friends and relatives in Mueller's hometown of Prescott, Ariz., say they hope her death will raise awareness of the plight of the Syrian refugees she worked with, NBC reports. "The things that were important to Kayla are finally getting the attention they deserve," an aunt said. "The world grieves with us."
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